Belleville to pay $260K for land next to ‘white tent’ site. What’s the plan for it?

Belleville will pay $260,000 for about 2.65 acres next to the Ameren cleanup site where contractors had been using large, white tents to contain any potential air pollution.

The downtown property is being sold by Jack Schmitt Chevrolet, which previously had a used car lot on the site before the dealership relocated to O’Fallon.

Most recently, the property has been used by the Ameren contractor removing contaminants from the ground from an old factory at South Sixth and West Main streets.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the city plans to change the configuration of the streets in the area and would need some of the Jack Schmitt property to do that. Also, the city may establish a small park on the cleanup site.

“We felt like instead of being nickeled and dimed to death with needing a right of way here, a right of way there to do the things we need to do, we knew we’re going to need parts of this to do the some of the road improvements in that downtown area,” Eckert said.

Eckert also said he was concerned that a business that was not “really appealing to the eye” might move onto the land at the entrance to downtown.

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The city of Belleville is buying the former Jack Schmitt Chevrolet used car lot off South Sixth Street. Mike Koziatek

Now, he said the city can “keep control of the aesthetics of the entrance way.”

The City Council recently voted unanimously to buy the land, which includes the former used car lot in the 100 block of South Sixth Street and another lot next to the city’s parks department building at 510 W. Main St.

St. Clair County property records show the land, which is divided into four parcels, was assessed at $112,000.

However, Eckert said the property was appraised at about $330,000. A closing for the deal is expected to be conducted soon.

The city will use money from its TIF 3 fund to pay for the property in two payments of $130,000; one at the closing and another next summer.

“We feel like we came out fine,” Eckert said.

Cleanup update

Ameren is paying about $36 million to remove coal tar from the ground.

Although the large, white tents are no longer needed, the cleanup along Washington Street will continue until June, said Dave Palmer, program manager for remediation projects for Ameren.

The contractor had had to reroute Richland Creek during the cleanup but the creek has been moved back to its original channel.

The tents were used to prevent contaminants from entering the air while contractors excavated dirt polluted by coal tar leaking from storage containers. The coal tar is a byproduct from the late 1800s and early 1900s when the former Belleville Gas Light and Coke Co. factory off Sixth Street along Richland Creek produced gas from coal. This gas was used to light the city’s street lights.

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Work on the Ameren cleanup site in downtown Belleville is scheduled to be completed in June. The big white tents have been removed and Richland Creek is back in its original location after being rerouted during the cleanup project. Belleville will buy the former Jack Schmitt Chevrolet used car lot shown in the upper left side of this photo. Derik Holtmann

Ameren is responsible for the cleanup because it purchased Illinois Power Co. in 2004. The city of Belleville owns most of the cleanup site.

The remediation work began in 2015 and before that, the former Belleville Gas Light and Coke Co. factory had been torn down.

Palmer said Ameren has planned to do the final site grading to match the original topography but he said that could be adjusted at the city’s request.

“If it’s a similar amount of effort so there’s no additional cost or time, we can grade the site to better fit their future needs but that’s about as much as we can do at this point,” Palmer said.

Park plans

Eckert said city officials have discussed whether to put a park on the cleanup site but the plans have not been finalized.

The proposal includes the possibility of installing a platform to hold four columns salvaged from the old St. Clair County Courthouse that was torn down in 1972. It also includes a walking path that would have plaques marking historical information about the Richland Creek flood of 1957 and how the creek divided Belleville and the former community of West Belleville.


Why did we report this story?

We wanted to give BND readers a report on the $260,000 the city of Belleville plans to pay for about 2.65 acres off South Sixth Street and Washington Street next to the Ameren cleanup site where the contract had used big, white tents.

The wedge intersection next to the cleanup site had been home to the “The Big Red Shoe” sculpture but the artwork has been moved to a city storage lot because it needs a new coat of paint.

Also, if the courthouse columns are installed in the proposed park, the shoe sculpture would be moved to another site that has not yet been selected.

The sculpture by Milwaukee artist Marina Lee was commissioned by the Art on the Square committee and installed in 2011 as a tribute to nationally known radio personality Delilah Rene, who had a red, stiletto heel logo for her production company. Rene had sponsored a “Paint the Town” contest and Belleville was selected as a winner in 2010 when volunteers painted 65 buildings along Main Street between 17th and Oak streets.

The Washington Street spur onto West Main Street has been closed during the Ameren cleanup and Eckert said earlier this year that the city will not reopen the spur after the cleanup work is completed because there were too many crashes on the spur.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is from St. Louis.